Tobias had had to lie to his parents to go into hospital. The lie was not exactly a lie, but more a twisting of the truth, if one cared to look at it that way.
‘I have a friend who is in hospital, and I didn’t realise when I was there yesterday. Could we go and visit her today? You can just drop me off if you want.’
The perfect lie from the newly appointed perfect son to his perfect parents. The day was so shrouded in perfection that Tobias’ father had no reason to doubt him. He had things to be doing today anyway, so he was happy to drop him off at one of the safest buildings in the city. They’d pick him up in an hour or so.
The hospital was far busier today than it had been yesterday. The nurse explained that today was ‘official visiting day’ for extended family and the like, but people were free to come and go as they please, providing they were close to the patient. No unnecessary disturbances.
Nobody questioned when Tobias walked into reception, claimed a visitor’s sticker and headed up to room 509, the route to which seeming more and more familiar now.
Peeking through the tiny window on the door, Tobias breathed a sigh of relief to see that Danielle had no visitors. Although glad that he wouldn’t have to explain his presence to strangers, Tobias couldn’t help but sympathise for Danielle, alone in the hospital, maybe with no visitors at all. It was unlikely that she didn’t have any parents or family or anybody that would want to visit her, but not completely impossible or unlikely.
She was awake when Tobias stepped through the door. He suddenly had a surge of regret. Maybe he shouldn’t be turning up unannounced only a day after they met, simply because he wanted help solving his mysterious and secretive problems. Too late now, however, he thought as he crossed the threshold, shutting the door behind him.
Thoughts of an unwelcoming nature were banished when Danielle turned from the window to look at her unexpected visitor. She smiled at him, not a fake smile of mild content, but a real smile that was obviously that of relief and joy.
‘Tobias,’ she croaked. Her voice was shockingly different to that of the chirpy young woman he had met yesterday.
‘Hey, Danielle. What’s wrong with your voice?’ He instantly kicked himself for asking such a probing question, but she smiled.
‘Surgery for the wound. Very, very entertaining. Only a seventy-five percent chance of survival. And yet here I am!’
‘Isn’t seventy-five percent a good chance?’
‘Not when you think that there’s a quarter of a chance that you would die.’ She smiled, despite the morose topic. ‘But I’ll be fine now. No more surgery for me. I’m a fighter. Besides, I couldn’t leave you all lost and alone with only the Voices for company. The Gifted have got to stick together, you know.’
Danielle almost seemed disgusted by saying the words, but she laughed it off, and Tobias joined in. Only a light laughter to cover the secret pain that both of them shared, both emotionally and physically. But they also shared their happiness. And it was refreshing.
‘So what’s up, Tobias? Why the sudden but oh so welcome visit?’
Tobias smiled, then pulled off the rucksack he was carrying. The same one he used for school, but it was not filled with literature today. Well, maybe a single piece, if one can count a newspaper as a piece of literature.
Unzipping the bag, Tobias pulled out the crumpled page which contained the story that had perplexed and aggravated him this morning. Throwing the hollow rucksack to the side, he passed the paper over to Danielle, who gave him an odd look.
Before she had even said anything, Tobias had taken back the paper, realising that it would probably be easier if he read it to her, and that way he could refresh his memory of the content.
Danielle watched him intently as he read, and this made him feel a little self conscious, but certainly not uncomfortable. As he read, he did not take in the words, but merely scratched on their surface, all the while thinking about this new and peculiar friendship, bound by the unfortunate and yet uniting situation they both found themselves in. The Voices, the Gifted, the Dark, all three, working as a kind of mysterious trinity had brought them together. In a strange way, it was the greatest friendship that Tobias had ever known, because he knew deep down that they both needed it for their own peace of mind. It was a comforting thought, and as Tobias read on, he cherished every moment with her.
The beautiful moment was shattered by Danielle, however.
As Tobias finished the reading, he did not realise the impact that it would have, and was distracted by the warming thoughts, assuming that Danielle was also sharing those thoughts at that same moment.
She was obviously preoccupied with other thoughts.
Tobias accepted the apology, excusing the sudden vulgarity.
‘Do you know what this means?’ Danielle asked, obviously already knowing the answer. ‘It’s here. The Dark is in the city.’
The Dark is close.
‘The Dark is close.’ Tobias repeated their words in case Danielle had not received the same message. Judging by the look on her face, however, she had, and she did not wish to accept it.
‘The Dark is close,’ she said to herself, and then again, louder, to Tobias, to the Voices, to anybody that would listen. ‘The Dark is close.’
‘Do you know how many Gifted there are in the city?’ Tobias asked. ‘It’s here. That Roger man lived only a mile away from me. The Dark is here, in the city. Do you know how many Gifted there are?’
Danielle remained silent, frozen in fear. She waited in silence for the Voices to say something constructive that would help the two Gifted people in their time of need, but no solution presented itself.
The Voices answered Tobias’ question after the delay had seemed to linger unwelcome. Tobias repeated the words, then looked at Danielle, who was nodding her head.
‘Why is he doing this? This mysterious man. The Dark… Why does he want to kill us all?’ Danielle asked, glaring down at the paper, willing it to answer her questions. But it remained silent, as did the Voices, as did the two occupants of the room.
The silence remained in the room, outstaying its welcome, making the newly founded friendship uncomfortable, making Tobias realise that maybe there was little that the two of them could do for one another.
The Dark is close. Few remain.
Judging by the explosion of fear that was produced in Danielle’s eyes, Tobias realised she was hearing the same things as he was.
‘What are the Voices? Why won’t they tell us enough to stop the Dark? To escape, at least?’ Tobias demanded an answer.
‘A conscience is not a…’
Tobias interrupted. ‘It’s not a conscience! I thought it was, but for only a day. Less than a day. I wished it could be a good thing, I wished it could be a conscience. Maybe it still could be, but whilst it provides no explanation of why it’s here, I can’t do anything!’
‘The Voices just…’
‘No! I’m Gifted because of the Voices. The Voices came to me. I don’t have a choice in this and yet I’m the one who’s going to get killed for it?! Why? Why would the Voices chose to inhabit somebody if it was just going to kill them? They want to stop the Dark, but they’re the ones that make it kill people. They’re the ones who started all this!’
Tobias paused, adrenalin pumping after his little outburst. If he was honest with himself – as he so often liked to be – the feelings he had just expressed were the same feelings he felt confined to his own mind for the last several days. And now they were off his chest. And now maybe the Voices would do something about it.
‘Tobias, I know you’re upset, but you need to calm down. The Voices are logical, remember? They wouldn’t have chosen you unless they thought you stood a chance against the Dark.’
‘But why do I have to be the one that has to stop all this? Why…’
‘No, dammit Tobias! You don’t understand. The Gifted didn’t choose you because they thought you could fight. They chose you because you have something else to offer. I’ve been Gifted since I was your age, and yet this Dark has only been plaguing my mind for a month or so. It’s not that they choose people to stop the Dark. It’s something else.’
‘Well I don’t want anything to do with any of it!’
Abandoning his paper and the bag he carried to school, Tobias stormed out of the room, instantly regretting it, but too proud to turn around and go back to see Danielle.
The hallway was busy. It was almost impossible to walk angrily and with intent, but Tobias tried to manage it anyway. Barging past people who barely noticed he was there until he bumped into them, he ignored every person who looked after him as he headed for the elevator.
Tobias had barely been in the room for fifteen minutes. The fourty-five that remained were spent contemplating the Voices, the Gifted, and the Dark, alone in the waiting room.
It seemed that his life now revolved around thinking about things beyond his understanding.